Engendering a Gender Perspective in Economics: a student’s view

“Economic growth does not mean anything if it leaves people out”. While this quote by Jack Kemp shares its relevance among many pressing socioeconomic issues, the mandate of this blog will be limited to gender representation in the labour market. More specifically, how a gender-based perspective could be inculcated in economic academia and the benefits the approach entails. This blog will also draw references from the EconTEAching seminar, “Teaching Gender Economics“, which took place on 1 March 2023. It will reflect on the broad ideas and intricacies of Gender Economics as thought and worked upon by various professors and policymakers.

Growing up in India, my first impressions of gender underrepresentation were formed through observing the internalisation of underconfidence in opinion formation and decision-making by women. These “invisible hands” have not developed overnight but after decades and decades of public normalisation of gender-based inequality. While most discrimination against women has been within households and communities, labour market exclusion is relatively recent. I believe this could be attributable to the fact that an organised labour market for women is novel in its significance itself.

Professor Astrid Kunze, from the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, and recipient of the Inaugural European Economics Association Teaching Award (Senior) for exceptional teaching, addressed the topic of diversity in firms quite extensively in the EconTEAching seminar. She highlighted some differentials of her course on gender economics, which analyses the subject from a firm’s perspective rather than a household viewpoint. Furthermore, the module material comprises empirical studies and economic principles, making it analytical and inferential in its approach.

Additionally, she highlights how time trends have motivated gender diversity, with an increase of 20 per cent from the 40 per cent of gender ratio in firms over time. Furthermore, this imbalance is not restricted to the corporate world but also extends to academia. A report by the World Bank stated that globally, women represent 46 per cent of the public sector workforce compared with 33 per cent in the private sector. I feel this is because policies on gender equality at the workplace are more strictly adhered to by government entities as they arguably face first-hand stakes in a potential employee protest.

Secondly, Professor Yana Rodgers, Professor in the Department of Labor Studies at Rutgers University, spoke about an undergraduate-level course in development economics that presents an ideal opportunity to introduce students to the importance of gender differences in economic outcomes. She also mentions that economic development textbooks typically used in the global North meet this challenge in a partial and limited way. They usually entail discussing gender inequality in the context of poverty, farm productivity, health, education and the demographic transition (Cypher, 2021; Todaro & Smith, 2020). Their paper argues that systematic integration of gender into development economics courses based on standard textbooks is feasible and desirable and shows how gender-aware scholarly articles and assignments can complement a system based on textbook material. Their main goal stands to address the male bias in content and devise new material that reflects on one or more core features of feminist economics.

Specifically, Professor Rodgers and her team propose to engender three main sections of a prototype development economics course. They are- Meanings and measures of economic development, Strategies for economic development and Salient issues in development, and a forward-looking added section on creating equitable development. They also provide examples of questions/exercises and assignments within each section of the prototype course. Regarding pedagogical value, they conclude that integrating gender awareness in a development economics class can be highly effective in students’ understanding of economic development. Furthermore, students grasp better mediating institutions- communities, governments, and markets- and their influence on individual well-being as countries prosper. Moreover, the potential impact on gender composition and the economics culture would be positive. It would make the course more inclusive, with increased and diverse student attraction and retention.

Personally, I believe that studying development economics without an underlying gender perspective evades the holistic core of the subject and excludes many causal relationships that result in the growth, decline or stagnancy of development. This causes a learning gap and fails to deliver a time-sensitive aspect of developmental economics.

Stefania Paredes Fuentes, Diversity Champion at the Royal Economic Society (and Associate Professor at the University of Warwick), meticulously presented economics students’ learning gaps and backgrounds. She picturised the status of economic education through a pipeline and showed an interaction between socio-economic indicators and demographic variables of ethnicity and gender. She also delivered evidence and literature on the under-representation, discrimination, hostile culture in the discipline and stereotypes against women, especially in academia.

Conclusively, I believe that the inclusion of a gender perspective is highly crucial in modern literature, specifically the ones that study and model development. From a social perspective, this becomes necessary to perpetuate awareness amongst students across disciplines, who will eventually become employers and policymakers. While statutory obligations look like solutions at the moment, in the long run, ingraining the significance of diversity and inclusion in young minds is the way to go.

Written by Sanika Ghodke, BSc Economics

Image credit: PNG All

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